Virgin Orbit

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Virgin Orbit
PredecessorVirgin Galactic
FoundedMarch 2, 2017; 4 years ago (2017-03-02)
United States
Key people
Dan Hart[1] (President and CEO)
ServicesOrbital rocket launch
Number of employees
390 (2017)

Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group which provides launch services for small satellites. On January 17, 2021, their LauncherOne successfully reached orbit, and successfully deployed 10 cubesats.[2]

The company was formed in 2017 to develop the air-launched LauncherOne rocket, launched from Cosmic Girl; this tandem had previously been a project of Virgin Galactic.[3] Based in Long Beach, California, Virgin Orbit has more than 300 employees led by president Dan Hart, a former vice president of government satellite systems at Boeing.[4][5]

Virgin Orbit focuses on small satellite launch, which was one of three capabilities being focused on by Virgin Galactic. These capabilities are: human spaceflight operations, small satellite launch, and advanced aerospace design, manufacturing, and test.[6]



On May 25, 2020, LauncherOne's first launch failed to reach orbit.[7]

On January 17, 2021, LauncherOne became the first Virgin Orbit vehicle to reach orbit, successfully deploying 10 CubeSats into Low Earth Orbit for NASA on its final demonstration mission.[2] LauncherOne was deployed from the left wing of a retrofitted Boeing 747, 10 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean.[8] The rocket was dedicated to the memory of Eve Branson, mother of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, who died from Covid-19 on the 8th of January 2021.[9][10]

On June 30, 2021, LauncherOne successfully delivered its first commercial payload to space.[11]

Cosmic Girl[edit]

Cosmic Girl is the name of the modified Boeing 747 that Virgin Orbit uses to launch its rockets.[12]

VOX Space[edit]

VOX Space is a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit that was created in the early 2020s. The company plans to supply launch services for the US military, sometimes referred to as the "national security launch market."[13] The company intends to use the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne launch vehicle.

In April 2020, VOX Space was awarded a US$35 million contract for three launches of 44 cubesats for US Space Force. The first launch is slated to occur no earlier than October 2021.[13][14]

Other projects[edit]


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Virgin Orbit announced it was a partner in a new venture to build comparatively low-grade mechanical ventilators (breathing machines) — specifically "bridge ventilators" for partially recovered patients and patients not in intensive care — to address the critical global shortage of mechanical ventilators during the pandemic. To develop and produce them, Virgin Global — with the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin — formed the Bridge Ventilator Consortium. They had a prototype awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March, and hoped to begin production in April.[15][16][17]

Launch site in the UK[edit]

Virgin Orbit aims to launch space flights from the United Kingdom at Spaceport Cornwall.[18] The project is partly funded by the UK Space Agency.[19]

Launch site in Brazil[edit]

In April 2021, the Brazilian Space Agency disclosed the company among those selected to operate orbital launches from the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil.[20]


In October 2019, Virgin Orbit announced that Matthew Stannard was joining as a pilot on a three-year contract. Stannard had previously served in the Royal Air Force as a test and evaluation pilot notably on Typhoon jets. At that time Orbit was about to start testing its Cosmic Girl launch platform.[21]


  1. ^ Fernholz, Tim (June 13, 2017). "Virgin Orbit's newly-minted CEO will use psychology to launch satellites faster than anyone else". Quartz. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
  2. ^ a b Christian Davenport (2021-01-17). "Virgin Orbit rocket reaches Earth orbit, adding an entrant to the commercial space race". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ Irene Klotz (2 March 2017). "Virgin Galactic Unveils Spin-Off Virgin Orbit for Small-Satellite Launches".
  4. ^ Davenport, Christian (March 2, 2017). "Richard Branson starting a new venture dedicated to launching small satellites into space". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  5. ^ "Virgin Galactic Makes Satellite Launch Service New Company". U.S. News & World Report. Associated Press. March 2, 2017. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  6. ^ "Welcome, Virgin Orbit!". Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  7. ^ "LauncherOne (L1)".
  8. ^ Watch this rocket launch from the wing of a jumbo jet - CNN Video, retrieved 2021-01-19
  9. ^ January 2021, Mike Wall 17 (17 January 2021). "Virgin Orbit launches 10 satellites to orbit in landmark test flight". Retrieved 2021-01-21.
  10. ^ "Branson's Virgin rocket takes satellites to orbit". BBC News. 2021-01-17. Retrieved 2021-01-21.
  11. ^ SpaceX [@SpaceX] (June 30, 2021). "Tracking footage of Falcon 9 landing on LZ-1" (Tweet). Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2021 – via Twitter.
  12. ^ "Branson's Virgin rocket takes satellites to orbit". BBC News. 2021-01-17. Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  13. ^ a b Erwin, Sandra (10 April 2019). "Virgin Orbit's VOX Space wins $35 million U.S. Space Force launch contract". SpaceNews. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  14. ^ Kanayama, Lee (2020-04-10). "LauncherOne Cryo Captive Carry test on Cosmic Girl - wins smallsat missions". Retrieved 2021-01-19.
  15. ^ "Virgin Orbit designs new ventilator as part of Virgin Group's efforts to combat coronavirus," March, 2020,, retrieved April 2, 2020
  16. ^ "Coronavirus: Companies are helping meet shortages of ventilators, gowns, and more," March, 2020, Business Insider, retrieved April 2, 2020.
  17. ^ "Branson's Virgin Orbit to begin coronavirus ventilator mass production," March 30, 2020, NBC News, retrieved April 2, 2020.
  18. ^ "Virgin Orbit one step closer to launches from Spaceport Cornwall | Virgin".
  19. ^ "U.K. Government to fund spaceport improvements for Virgin Orbit". 6 November 2019.
  20. ^ "Virgin Orbit Selected to Bring Orbital Launch Capabilities to Brazil | Virgin Orbit". 28 April 2021.
  21. ^ Virgin Orbit selects RAF pilot as it plans satellite launch program, Ed Adamczyk, SpaceDaily, 2019-10-04

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